1.2. Scenes 21-22

Scene 21 – October 22nd
Interior Warehouse, Evening
“Penelope Page” (Blue)

I met with my other selves in the backup rendezvous. While my mission had gone off without a hitch, the periodic updates we had passed on by bird mail told me that both of them had run into superheroes. Patron of Ambrosia Co. or not, Canaveral was altogether too good of a person to trust, and too good of a tracker to use the primary safehouse that the company kept in New Venice.

As a result, instead of a nice office space we had to meet in a warehouse. It wasn’t that much of a hardship, I supposed, but still. I – or at least, this iteration of me, one step away from the original Penelope Page, – preferred a little more comfort, if I was given the choice. Ah well.

The third gen iterations arrived shortly after me – one of them slipping in wearing the face of a dockworker, then shrinking down into a butch-looking woman in a waistcoat and a purple undercut. The other came in through the roof after landing there as a flock of birds, showing herself in a green-colored women’s school uniform of some sort. Very few iterations of me had any strong preferences towards any particular look, but we tended to settle on a single aesthetic simply to help distinguish ourselves from each other.

I nodded to them as they arrived. “Student. Butch.” Names, on the other hand, had been trickier, at least for the first year. After that, we all agreed that we simply had to go by whatever name was suggested by our chosen aesthetic, or things got confusing.

They both nodded to me. “How did things go for you, Blue?” asked Butch.

I shrugged. “No trouble on my end – none of the guards had any suspicions, and our imprisoned friend had been rescued by us before. I chose an IT girl for the infiltration and ensured that the cell’s cameras suffered a malfunction when I slipped down there. Thornhill’s best purchaser is free once more, albeit in the IT girl’s body, and a body with signs of a heart attack has been left behind. I thought it would be a fun challenge, after I let them spot me, but the fools apparently didn’t expect me to be sneaking into their base – I can’t imagine why not.”

It was a simple trick, and one that I had done several times before – I could perfectly replicate anyone if I absorbed them, but I didn’t have to limit myself to pure recreation. I was fully capable of mixing and matching as I chose. By leaving behind a copy of the IT girl’s body with Thornhill’s agent’s brain, the agent would be able to cover for the unfortunate that I had used to slip through the MLED’s security. In a week or two she would submit a letter of resignation, and no one would connect it to the sudden death of who they thought the agent had been – the body that had been left behind, of course, was another copy of me, one who sometime today would have arranged herself to appear as though she was having massive cardiac arrest, then replace her own brain with that of the IT girl, who would die before even really waking.

Student rolled her eyes. “Yes, we’ve all done the trick before. We know how it works.”

I glared at her. “You’re one to talk, Student, when you messed up a mission as simple as ‘pass on Laura’s last messages to her family.’”

“It’s not my fault that there were superheroes knocking at the family door! I decided not to potentially screw things up, and took on a different mission!” she defended herself.

I turned to Butch. “And did you finish the mission, after you two decided to swap?”

She fidgeted a little. “Well… after getting the message I had a hunch that the younger of the two heroes, the one who was wearing Laura’s invention, might be her child. I was going to deliver her message to them, but… I decided that it was better to be safe, since I didn’t actually know their identity.”

I frowned at her. “Come on, Butch. Who else was it going to be? They had a key to the house for gods’ sake!”

“Boyfriend? Girlfriend? I don’t know! I realize that it was probably the kid, yes, but you know we’re supposed to respect identity stuff! The heroic patrons get pissy if Ambrosia is sketchy where anyone can see!”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s more of a guideline. Besides, no one knows that Legion is associated with Ambrosia.”

“Um…” Student scratched at the back of her head. “I kind of spent Canaveral’s second favor.”

“…on what.” I growled. “Please, enlighten me what was so important that you had to spend one of the very valuable favors that Ambrosia Co. is owed by such a respected figure.”

“Look, he brought Laura back when she was kidnapped!” she cried. “And Laura saved us, remember? We owe him!”

“He didn’t do it for us, Student,” Butch snarled. “He’s a hero, it’s just what he does. And besides, that was his first favor. We don’t owe him anything – we owe Laura.”

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your fuckup,” I snapped at Butch, then turned back to Student. “She is right, though. That’s not a good enough reason.”

Student crossed her arms defiantly. “I think we owe him.”

I rubbed my temples – I shouldn’t be able to get headaches, and yet I could feel one coming on. “Fine, I guess. it’s too late to do anything about now. You spent it on?”

“Maxwell Copperfield’s location. We’re on a time limit, I didn’t have time to look,” she said, glancing away from me.

“Fine. And did that mission go alright, at least?”

She nodded, looking back at me. “I just came from it. He’s amenable to lending Miles the book, once he has it – he said that he expects to be able to lay his hands on it in the next month or two.”

“Good.” I returned my attention to Butch. “Now then. We have to be out of the city by tonight, or else Aegis will be on our tail, and you remember how that went for us last time, right?” All three of us shuddered in unison. “How do you expect to fix this?”

“I’ll do the usual resurrection trick,” Butch suggested. “I can even use it to cover for the two of you leaving New Venice.”

“Who are you resurrecting, exactly?” Student asked. A lesser known aspect of our powers was that when we used a template to recreate something, we lost the template, or at least the part of it that had been used. Newly created iterations of us didn’t start with any templates at all, requiring a quick infusion of basic forms like birds that we used for communication. And while bird forms could be done with the imprecise copying that we used to create additional Legions, which didn’t lose the form, resurrecting a person required a perfect recreation of the brain at a minimum. As the oldest Legion here, I was the only one of the three of us to have any people in my memory – or I should be, at least. “You didn’t forget to mention eating one of the New Champions, did you?”

“I was thinking Ventus?” she said, and I thought I heard a sly undertone to her question. “If you just pass him to me…”

I thought for a moment, trying to remember if he was one of the people that Madam Thornhill or one of her vice presidents had noted not to be resurrected. He had been a friend of Canaveral’s early on, as I recalled, and the two of them had fought me together early on, before Canaveral had become the New Champions’ team leader. He had survived then, hadn’t he? So when did I… “Don’t you remember why we took him in the first place?” I asked Butch after a moment.

She nodded. “But it’s been years since then, and no one would believe him if he tried to reveal it at this point. And I bet that Canaveral can convince him to keep quiet. I know it’s always a pain,” she added, “but…”

“And if he can’t, then Ventus will be out of the request list for resurrection.” I considered her request. Ventus wouldn’t have been my first choice to resurrect – he had been taken for a reason, and on the occasions I remembered bringing his brain out to speak to him he had given no sign that he had changed. I found it hard to believe that Butch actually thought he was a good prospect. How had she drifted, to come up with the idea?

Perhaps it had little to do with Ventus. Thinking back a minute to when Student had confessed to wasting one of Canaveral’s favors, Butch had seemed even more angry than me – I was mad about the waste, but she seemed personally offended. Did she expect that dangling Ventus’s resurrection in front of his best friend would be some kind of punishment?

I couldn’t help but to be curious about how she expected it to work, so I responded simply by offering my hand. She took it, and we merged briefly, our nervous systems combining. There was a moment of disorientation as I felt through two bodies and saw through four eyes and heard through four ears, then we separated once more with a shudder. The animal messengers that we used had simple brains, only enough to hold the instructions and message we programmed them with. A direct exchange with another human brain, however, was a hell of a lot to handle – worse than recombining from a group of small animals. We had never even tried recombining full human bodies, suspecting that it would be essentially impossible.

Butch and I took a moment to recollect ourselves, then nodded to each other and to Student. “Alright, Student and I will slip out to the south,” I told her. “You make your distraction to the north. And be sure to do it tonight – I like having a whole continent between me and Aegis.”

Scene 22 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Late Evening
“Penelope Page” (Butch)

I had made my way across the city with little difficulty, choosing to travel in the form of a flock of seagulls. I could, of course, leave the city without anyone noticing, and the thought crossed my mind after they recombined into me a little ways south of the Buff Boys’ territory on the edge of New Venice. After all, the resurrection trick that I was going to pull would mean the end of my brief existence as an individual.

While I had 25 years of Penelope Page’s memories to draw on, I hadn’t been the one to make those memories – with a different brain, I diverged farther from the original Penny every moment I was alive, every breath I took. Blue was one of the longest surviving splits even at only two years old, and at this point no one would mistake her for being the same person as Penny if they spoke to both, although they would probably still guess some relation. How far might I diverge, as a third-generation incarnation of Legion, if I had the time?

But, like spawning fourth-generations, it had long ago been decided that third-generations risked drifting too far from the original if they lived too long. I wouldn’t have been allowed to live longer than three months anyway. I completely understood why, too – the first third-generation to live past four months had gone off the reservation and left, after all, and I had Blue’s memory of voting in favor of a time limit of third-generations like me. How could I blame the other mes when I knew exactly why they had voted that way, and would have made the same choice myself?

So it was without much bitterness that I took the form of an overweight man wearing an expensive-looking suit and some flashy jewelry. There was no way the BB wouldn’t notice me and demand some kind of toll for passing through their territory. I would choose to take offense and reveal myself as Legion. A brawl would break out, and if I held back enough, a hero or three was bound to show up to take me on. Then it was a simply matter of allowing myself to be captured without making it look like I was faking the battle, and I would be exactly where I wanted to be.

“Hey, tubby!” called a voice from behind me, and I couldn’t help a grin. “You’re in Buff Boy territory! Either pay up or go to the gym!” I heard some snickering at what the gang members who had surrounded me no doubt thought was a hilarious gag.

Right on time.

1.2. Scene 17

Scene 17 – October 22nd
Interior Restaurant, Early Evening
Holly Koval

I ended up continuing to shop with Kaufman – they had a decent chunk of budget left, and I took it upon myself to help them get the best deals. Plus, they had terrible taste in plaid patterns, and someone had to save them from their own fashion sense. It’s my duty as a hero, I joked when they tried to decline the offer.

After finishing a round of the thrift shops in the waterfront district, we decided to get dinner together at the Shrieking Eel, a cheap seafood place that was a lot better than its name suggested. Somehow, the topic of conversation – which had gone surprisingly smoothly after its initial awkward start – had returned to magic.

“Say, since you’re probably the best magician I actually know,” Kaufman asked as the plate of salmon we were going to share arrived, “do you mind explaining some things? I don’t know much about magic myself, so I’m a little confused about… most of it.”

“Of course!” I said happily. I loved talking about magic – it was my chief passion in life. Sure, heroism was important too, and art was great, but if I was honest with yourself, magic was what I really got up in the morning for. “Just tell me if I start to get too long-winded – I know most people aren’t as into it as I am.”

“I’ll stop you if you forget to breath,” they assured me, and I chuckled. “I guess my first question is… how exactly does it work?”

“Quite well, thank you.”

“No no, I mean how does it actually work? Like, even on a basic level, are you manipulating gravitons or plucking on fundamental strings or what?”

I nodded understandingly. “I know what you mean, Quinn, and I’m sorry to tell you that no one really knows. Magic is a mystery – if it wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t call it magic anymore. We’d call it… I don’t know… thaumaturgy, probably. Finding the thaum, a fundamental particle of magic, is the life’s work of a hell of a lot of magicians, including Arthur Peregrine himself, but no one has ever been able to.

“The most commonly accepted theory is that… well, have you heard about string theory? Lots of tiny dimensions beyond the three spacial dimensions and one for time?”

“Yeah,” they confirmed.

“Well, the theory is that magic somehow taps into those dimensions. Whether they’re so small that they’re impossible to notice or they’re so large that they’re impossible to notice, it’s possible, by arranging your mind right, to pull energy from them. Or use them to manipulate your surroundings. Like a two-dimensional creature picking up a pair of scissors and rearranging their paper however they want.”

Kaufman seems to consider this for a moment. “I may not be a physicist,” they admitted, “but I don’t think that actually makes much sense.”

“Agreed,” I said with a nod. “But that’s the most common theory.”

“What’s yours?”

“I think it’s a bit more fundamental than that.”

“More fundamental that string theory? Don’t tell the string theorists that,” they joked.

I gave them a playful shove, and stole the piece of salmon that they had been going for. “Har har. No, really. I think there’s some kind of fundamental law of the universe that makes it respond to thoughts, as long as they’re the right ones.”

“Why would that be?”

“Well, you’ve heard about Arthur Peregrine’s proof of the existence of the soul, right?” I asked.

“I don’t think I’m subscribed to that periodical. Tell me?”

“This was 1962. He was able to prove that soul energy existed, on a third level of reality. It’s like…” I paused to gesture, arranging my mind to create an image hovering in midair. “Imagine that this sheet is the universe.”

Kaufman nodded. “Okay. Is this like the sheet that gravity distorts?”

“Sort of. This sheet is an empty universe,” I clarified. “No particles, no energy. Now…” With a thought, a few places on the sheet were pulled downward and twisted a little. “These are particles – they distort the universe around them, which affects nearby particles.”

“I’m with you so far.”

“Imagine an arrangement of these particles which warped space in a way that created a similar, self-sustaining warp – a new particle, where one hadn’t been before.”

“Don’t the laws of thermodynamics object to that?” they asked.

I shrugged. “It’s not actually new matter or energy – it just looks like it. Let me show you.” I set my illusory teaching aid so that the original particles were in a circle, all pulling the sheet down – in the middle, it rose up above the normal level of the sheet. “You see, particles are on a level below spacetime, in this metaphor. But the energy that makes up the soul lies above.

Kaufman hummed to themself as they digested the idea. “So certain arrangements of particles – which, I assume, include brains?” I nodded in confirmation, and they continued, “will create soul energy. And I’m guessing that soul energy can similarly interact to affect real particles?”

“Essentially,” I agreed. “It’s a lot more complicated than that, really, but you’ve basically got it. Everyone has soul energy naturally, but magical training involves training your brain to generate more or it, as well as to get more control over it. It’s been accepted magical theory for centuries that souls were real, but because they’re on a different level of reality, it was difficult to prove.”

“How did he do it?”

“I’d need a lot more than one dinner to get you to the level you’d need to be to understand that,” I said apologetically.

“Is that an invitation?” they asked, and I found yourself blushing, especially as they continued, “because you’re a great teacher, and I’d love to keep learning about this stuff.”

“Um,” I stammered, having never been as thankful for the illusions that constantly replaced my actual appearance as I was then – it made hiding my red cheeks easy. “Maybe? Like I said, I’m very busy.”

“Of course,” they said, accepting my non-answer easily. “That all makes sense to me, I have to say. Although of course I don’t really know anything about magic.” Kaufman – no, Quinn, I decided – was a lifesaver, having effortlessly steered the conversation back to magic. “I do have another question, though.”

“Shoot,” I said, still trying to get my heartrate back under control.

“Canaveral and I met the Magnificent Maxwell last week.”

“He mentioned something of the sort.”

“Well,” Quinn continued, “when he did magic, he did it by snapping his fingers, or waving his arm. But when I’ve seen you do it, you kind of…” they tried to brush their fingers together, presumably trying to replicate one of the gestures I used for my own magic and failing. “…it’s different, is the point,” they said, giving up trying to copy me.

“Well, we’re different people,” I agreed.

They groaned and leaned forward, resting their forehead on the table. I resisted the urge to run my fingers through through their hair as they complained, “Holly, come on!”

“It’s the real answer though!” I protested. “Look, souls are created by brains, which are unique, or the next best thing to it – only a few people can duplicate them flawlessly. That means that souls are unique too. So the methods of manipulating yourself to cause your soul to manipulate the world to do magic will vary from person to person!”

“Is that how Canaveral does it without even a gesture?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, never mind.” Quinn sat back up. “So wait, how much do souls have to do with consciousness?”

“Oh, you want consciousness,” I said dismissively. “That’s psionic territory, that’s completely different. Well, mostly,” I admitted after a moment,

They rubbed their forehead. “I feel like I’ve stumbled into a vast new world that makes absolutely no sense, even though I know all the words. Is this how people feel when I talk about biology?”

“Probably.” We shared a laugh. “Any other questions?”

“Well…” They took a moment to pay for their half of the meal, and I do the same. “You mentioned that you’re not making magical illusions, right? What are you doing, if it’s not an illusion?”

I dismissed my teaching aide as we rose and begin meandering. “This is the bit where magic and psionics overlap,” I told them. “Imagine a dog.”

“Okay.”

“What kind is it?”

“Golden retriever.”

I nodded. “I was thinking of a beagle, myself.”

“Good choice, but what does that have to do with…?”

“The point is, that we both had the same prompt – a dog,” I said, “but we were thinking of different kinds of dog. Which is the weakness of an illusion.”

“I think I’m missing something here.”

“See, an illusion isn’t real,” I explained.

“Well I get that, but…”

“It’s not even interacting with particles. Light and sound? They go right through.”

“Hold on,” Quinn protested, “how do you see it? Does it make its own photons?”

I shook my head. “Remember how I said this was the overlap with psionics? Illusions are just slapped down on the psychic landscape.”

“…I’m missing something again.”

“Alright, imagine that we both look at that telephone pole there,” I said.

“Why do I have to imagine that instead of actually looking?” they asked.

I ignored their meaningless interjection. “We both look at it and think telephone pole. Our thoughts leave pressure on the psychic landscape – which is basically just the residue of everything everyone has ever thought about something – so now that telephone pole has a slightly stronger impression.”

“I think I’m with you,” Quinn said with a smirk.

“Most thoughts just blur out, but the ones that people keep having merge and become stronger,” I said. “That’s how things like tulpas and religions get started – lots of people all thinking the same thing. That’s how even blind psychics can get around – they can sense that something is thought of as a telephone pole, even without seeing it. Hell, it’s how a person can just seem like a Michael or a John or whatever. Even without being probably sensitive, most people can pick up on a strong enough psychic impression.”

“So an illusion…”

“There’s no shortcuts, with psionics,” I told them. “If you want to make lasting a psychic impression, it takes a lot of thought, a lot of people, or both. But magic can give you that shortcut. Just punch a strong enough impression of a dog somewhere, and people will actually see that dog – their brain picks up on the dog in the psychic landscape and will add one into your vision even though your eyes don’t see anything.”

“Ah!” they said in realization. “But I see a golden retriever, and you see a beagle!”

“Exactly!” I said approvingly, clapping them on the shoulder. “A real dog would have some golden retriever in its impression too, or whatever its breed is. And its behavior, and so on. Your brain will fill in anything that’s not there, yes, but each brain is different, so everyone will see those parts of an illusion differently. Remember Max? What did he look like?”

“Handsome. Short brown hair, sharp cheekbones. Strong jawline.”

I nodded. “Probably not.”

“No?”

“No,” I said again. “Because I see him with curly black hair down to his shoulders and bright green eyes.”

“He wears an illusion?” they asked.

“Yeah, it’s just an impression of a handsome man,” I explained. “Whatever you think of as handsome is what you’ll see.”

Quinn thought about this for a while as we continued walking together. “Illusions sound pretty easy to see through, if you just have a partner,” they said after a while.

“Harder than you think,” I told them. “After all, how often do you compare what you think you see with other people?”

“Fair point.”

“But yeah, that’s a definite weakness. You can put more into your impression if you want to make them more consistent – say, specify the dog as being a golden retriever, and then I wouldn’t see a beagle. But the more details you give to the mental construct yourself, the more likely it will be inconsistent with what the viewers think, and then it’ll act in obviously fake ways. Plus, the more detail you use the more difficult it is.”

“I understand, mostly,” Quinn decided. “And what do you do, instead?”

“One of two methods, both of which are the hard way,” I complained. “One is that I make a mental construct and place it into the actual world as soul energy, not into the psychic landscape. It actually does affect reality as it’s supposed to – at least, for the interactions that I’ve managed to model properly, which is just photons and sound waves for now – but people’s brains don’t cover for imperfections like with illusions, so I need to really really understand how everything works in order to make it realistic. That’s what I have to do for anything that’s going to last when I’m not paying attention to it.”

“And the other?”

“I manually control whatever photons or sound waves I’m working with,” I said. “Also immensely complicated – even more so, if I’m doing anything that needs to be realistic. On the other hand, without the start-up time of creating the mental construct, it’s way faster. That way is good for lasers and shock waves and other offensive uses.”

“I can’t even imagine how much concentration and effort it must take to control individual photons like that,” Quinn said, awed. “How on earth do you do it?”

I gave them a proud smile. “I’m very good.”

1.2. Scenes 15-16

Scene 15 – October 21st
Interior Townhouse, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

“…and after I was done crying, I walked back home and went to bed,” I said, wrapping up the tale of what had happened while my dad was out last night. “You weren’t home just yet, I don’t think, but both Legion and Canaveral were gone when I got back here.”

Dad was silent for a bit as he digested this. “I’m not exactly happy that such a dangerous villain was right outside our house,” he said eventually. “It doesn’t seem like there was anything you could do about that, though, and you did everything you could – more than you should have maybe, but you did great.”

I stared in surprise.

“What?” he asked. “Did you think I was going to be mad at you?”

“Well… you seemed upset about the gun thing,” I ventured.

He shook his head. “I wasn’t angry that you were in danger. Worried, sure, but if you’re considering being a hero, then you’re going to be in danger a lot, and that’s just something I need to get used to. I was upset because it seemed like you hadn’t noticed the danger, which is another thing entirely.”

Dad tapped his fingers impatiently for a moment. “I’m certain there’s a quote that’s applicable here, but for the life of me I can’t think of it,” he complained. “The point I’m trying to make, though, is that I don’t want you to rush into danger without being aware of it. That’s how you get hurt. And I don’t want you to forget when you are in danger. But what you did last night?” He took my hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “You knew that you were in danger, but you didn’t fall apart until afterwards. And then, when the danger wasn’t actually over, you held together until it was.

“I admit that I probably don’t know much about what it takes to be a hero, but I would think that being able to put things aside when you have to is important.”

I blinked at him. “Why I did think you didn’t want me to be a hero?”

“I have no idea, kid,” he said with a chuckle. “I would love for you to be a hero. I think you would do amazing. And I don’t want you to give up on that just because you don’t think you can – if you really don’t want to, that’s one thing, but…”

I sighed. “I honestly don’t know at this point, Dad. That fight was…” I drummed my fingers on the table beneath his hand, and he released me. “Exhilarating,” I finally said. “I know that probably sounds weird, but…”

“Not at all, a lot of people think adrenaline feels great.”

I ignored him. “I enjoyed it as I was doing it. But I was so useless. All I did was get in the way.”

“You’ll be trained,” Dad said, trying to comfort me.

“Training? What good will that do when my powers couldn’t do anything? I couldn’t protect myself, I couldn’t help Canaveral, all I could do was…” I sighed, looking away. “All I could do was run away.”

“Quinn. Kiddo.” Dad gently took my chin and turned my head so he could look into my eyes. “You’re letting your anxieties get the better of you,” he told me, seriously. “You’re a beginner at the hero thing – less than that, you haven’t even really started. You can’t compare yourself to people who’ve been doing this five, ten years, and expect to match up perfectly.”

“But I’ll have to, no one is going to slow down to match me -”

“How long have you been training to be a doctor?”

I blinked. “A little over three years, I guess?”

“Does that match up to actual doctors?”

“Of course not, they have another five years of schooling over me, not to mention years of residency before they’re proper doctors on their own-”

“Would you expect yourself to match up to a doctor, then?”

“Well, no, not until I’m through with school-”

“So why are you comparing yourself to heroes when you haven’t even had six months of training?”

I closed my eyes and leaned forward, resting my head on the table. “I guess you’re right.”

“I usually am, kiddo,” Dad said, and even though I wasn’t looking at him I could hear the smile in his voice. “And here’s another secret for you – if someone was injured, and the only other person to help them was some random guy without even your three years of premed, which do you think they would want to help them?”

“…me.”

“There you are then.”

I raised my head. “Maybe it’s just… I feel like I’d be throwing my medical career away, if I went into hero work. It’s not exactly a part-time job, once you’re through the Journeymen. It feels like I’d be losing the progress I’ve made towards one long and difficult career just to start all over in another.”

Dad patted me on the shoulder. “You’d be helping people either way, and either way I’ll be proud of you. And Quinn…” he paused, as though unsure he should say what came next. “Your mother would be too.”

Scene 16 – October 22nd
Interior Thrift Shop, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

Instead of going home with Dad after school the next day, I decided to head over to the Waterfront district – I had some shopping that I wanted to do. While I still hadn’t made a decision about being a hero, I definitely didn’t want to stop going out and about as Newton – if nothing else, it made commutes much easier. And if I was going to go out in costume and plaid and get it destroyed as I had last night, I was going to need more shirts.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly planning on getting into more fights, but apparently wearing a costume made them inevitable – I was two for two so far. As such, I was out to find all the cheap flannel I could get in the thrift stores that filled the area.

It was going pretty well when I spotted a familiar-looking face – the blonde girl from the Compound, the one who had introduced herself as Loki’s secret identity. She was browsing a little farther down the aisle, with some finds of her own in a bag. What had her name been? Hollis? Sally? No, Holly!

“Hey, Holly!” I called, walking toward her.

She turned to face me, blinking in surprise. “Quinn?”

“It’s nice to see you again,” I said with a smile. “I didn’t expect to run into you!”

Holly smiled back, “It’s good to see you too,” she said, and glanced down at the bag I was holding. “Wow, that’s a lot of flannel.”

I shrugged. “One of mine got kind of destroyed by, well,” I took a moment to peer around with ESP to make sure no one was paying us any attention – it didn’t seem like it. “By Legion – the bossman probably mentioned what happened.”

“Only briefly. Are you alright?”

“Fine,” I assured her. “Tore through the shirt, but I think my suit must be tougher than it looks. I’ve got nothing worse than bruises.”

“That’s a relief.” Her eyes flickered up and down me for a moment. “Heh. I like your shirt.”

I glanced down to see what I had pulled out of my dresser today – it was the shirt I had found the same night as the PA4, the Mr. Mrs. Dr. shirt that had belonged to my mother. “Thanks! Seems fitting, you know? Anyway, I figure if I’m going to be wearing plaid shirts over my costume, I should probably have some extras. What are you looking for?”

She shrugged. “Nothing in particular, really, I just enjoy looking for deals, you know? I like browsing for stuff and then finding the same stuff, or similar, for less in other places.”

“I see.” I paused, then asked, “do you know if Legion’s been caught yet?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. She hasn’t been seen since that night, actually – the conversation you had with her after retreated from the battle was the last reported sighting.”

We stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither of us seeming to be quite sure where to take the conversation, before she shifted a little and spoke again. “You said the shirt was fitting – do you want to be a doctor, then?” I nodded. “What kind? Medical, scientific, magical?”

“Medical. I’m planning on specializing in metahuman medicine – right now it’s just bio, of course. What about you, are you in college?”

“Yeah, I’m a senior at UNV.”

“Oh hey, me too!” I offered a high five, which she returned.

“Nice! I’d say it’s weird we’ve never run into each other, but it’s a big campus and we’re not exactly in the same department.”

“I think we might have been in the same art history course sophomore year, actually,” I said, trying to think. “Big circular hall with a giant holoprojector in the middle?”

“Maybe,” she said thoughtfully. “I definitely took an art history course in that room – Pardee Hall, right? But it had so many people that I really have no clue.”

“Hm. Anyway, I think I interrupted you – what were you saying?”

“You’re good,” Holly assured me. “I was just saying that we’re in completely different departments – you’re bio, I’m magical studies and art.”

“Oh, you’re an artist too?” I asked. “What kind? I do a lot of sketching, myself.”

“Sculpture, mostly, although I dabble in all sorts. It helps with the…” she made a gesture which my eyes and ESP both insisted wasn’t possible – her fingers seemed to pass through each other, and she suddenly had too many of them, and also too few, and even though it took less than a second my head was starting to ache. When she was done blatantly breaking the laws of physics with one hand, she was holding a rose.

I tried to ignore the headache, and reached out. “May I?” She nodded, so I took the rose. I felt nothing, but it moved as though I was actually holding it. When I pressed my fingers together, it actually seemed to be depressing my flesh as though there was actually a stem in the way, even though I could feel that there wasn’t.

It was very, very cool, even if it wasn’t helping my headache to have my senses arguing about the truth.

“I don’t actually use illusions, I manually control photons and sound waves,” she told me, “so I need to understand what makes art realistic. All my work is in hyper-realistic styles to help me get that understanding, even though I’d prefer to work in a more cartoony style.” She sighed. “It would nice to be able to make a portrait in less than 20 hours, you know?”

I nodded. “I kind of get what you mean. I’d like to draw more realistically, myself, but I rarely have time for more than cartoony sketches between all my classes. Hell, I have to do most of that in class.”

“I’d love to take a look sometime, if you don’t mind,” Holly offered. “I can probably give you advice on making your drawings a little more realistic.”

“Would you? That would be great. Art classes just don’t fit into my schedule anymore.”

“Ugh, scheduling is the worst,” she complained. “Magical studies is easy, but like I said, hyper-realism is so time-consuming. Not to mention my, ah, part-time job, and my independent magical research. And just imagine trying to schedule dungeons and dragons around all of that!”

“How do you find time to sleep?” I asked. “Really, I’m genuinely curious.”

“I don’t,” she deadpanned, “I just cover my eye-bags with magic. Who needs makeup?”

We laughed. After a moment, though, I mentally backtracked. “Hold on, did you say that magical studies is easy? I heard that was one of the hardest majors?”

She shrugged. “Eh. It’s more frustrating than hard. So many mages hoarded – and still hoard – magical lore that there’s just not enough information out there. And there’s no practical magic at all, which is part of my frustration. I mean, how can you call yourself a magician without actually being able to use magic?”

“Or at least wearing a top hat.”

1.2. Scenes 13-14

Scene 13 – October 20th
Exterior Vivaldi Park, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“I’ve got to tell you, Legion, I’m a little fed up with this right now,” I said without turning around, instead tracking her with ESP as she approached. “I mean, I literally just ran into you a second ago, and here you are again!”

“Yes, I know,” she said. This Legion’s voice was a little deeper than the one Canaveral and I had just been fighting. She was taller and more broadly built, too – I supposed that there was a limit to how far she could compress the mass of the tree she had just been pretending to be. “She was meant to be speaking to – well, the important thing is that the two of us have swapped roles in this visit to your lovely city.”

“How did you do that?” I asked, trying to keep her talking and not attacking. “I thought you didn’t have a hivemind. Did she take a moment to give you a ring?”

“We don’t, and no – phones are too easy to trace. But we can communicate information by merging our nervous systems, so…” A bird sprouted from her finger and flew around me, then returned to her hand and was reabsorbed. “A little bird told me.”

“…and the other one went to your third incarnation.”

She was close enough now that even with my ESP not being incredibly precise I was able to feel her tilt her head a little in acknowledgment. “Exactly – although I don’t know what she was told.”

I turned to look at her. “You seem chattier than the green one. A little less murdery.” Her face was a little different too, I though – or maybe it was just that her hair was a little shorter, it was hard to tell.

Legion shrugged. “We’re all a little different,” she said. “Our powers let us perfectly replicate any biological structure that we’ve absorbed, yes, but they’re a little less precise when we’re following a template that we haven’t absorbed – although at least we can do it more than once.”

“Your brain,” I realized.

The shapeshifter nodded. “Each time we create a duplicate, the brain is a little different. Not much, but enough – particularly as we immediately begin having different experiences. We call it drift, and we try to keep the number of duplications since the original down – for example, I’m a third generation, so I won’t be duplicating myself at all unless absolutely necessary. I suppose the me you met may have drifted a little more aggressive, and perhaps I drifted a little less so.”

“Since you’re feeling so talkative, why are you here?”

“I drifted less aggressive, not more naive,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m hear to talk to someone – so is she, actually – but I’m not about to tell you who, or about what.” The woman eyed me. “Unless… no, best to be sure. I’ll do it another way.”

“…sure about what?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll just say this. That suit you’re wearing? It granted you your powers, didn’t it?”
“How did you-”

“Not important. What is important is that my boss would be very interested in getting their hands on it. They never thought that it worked at all. I would consider very carefully who you tell about it, and try to stay out of the public eye.”

She gave me a surprisingly gentle smile. “And the best way to keep away from publicity is to not become a hero. Do something else with your life. Something safer.” The shapeshifter patted me on the shoulder, and I tried not to tense up to much. “Good luck, Newton. I truly wish you well.”

She walked back to where she had been hiding as a tree and extended a hand. Her arm stretched and bent and warped until the tree stood there once more and she separated from it, a good foot shorter and considerably slimmer as well. She then spread both arms and they extended into wings, and with one giant flap she was in the air and gone.

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled nervous breakdown,” I muttered, pulling off my mask and staring it. “…what the hell was that all about?”

Scene 14 – October 20th
Exterior Townhouse, Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“Alright, say your piece,” I spat at the shapeshifter. “What is it?”

“Ah ah ah,” Legion said, waggling a finger at me. “Not until we’re in a more secure location than, well…” she gestured to the townhouses around her. “And besides, I’m sure you have an earpiece, don’t you?”

I gestured to my uncostumed state. “Sure don’t. I was kind of in the middle of something when you showed up.”

Legion smiled – at least, she showed teeth. “Oh I see! You’re all alone then, aren’t you? You just sent away your only help. No back-up, no costume… poor little lost hero…”

“If you have something to say, then say it, before I go back to ripping you to shreds,” I growled. “I’m not in the mood for banter right now. You’ve kind of ruined what was supposed to be a nice night.”

“Oh? I didn’t interrupt anything private, did I?”

“I’m going to to give you until a count of ten. One…”

She rolled her eyes. “Just give me your assurance that you won’t put this little chat in your report, and I’ll say what I have to say.”

“Then give me a reason not to. Five…”

Legion produced a badge that read Ambrosia Co. “Is this good enough?”

“…talk.” I had had no idea she was part of Ambrosia. This… could explain a lot about her unpredictable activities.

She reabsorbed the badge and began examining her nails, as though they could be anything less than perfect given her shapeshifting abilities. “Madam Thornhill is a trifle annoyed with your recent drug bust,” she informed me. “She had plans for that brawn.”

I crossed my arms. “And? It’s my job. A job your company is responsible for me having, by the way.”

“Oh, she’s not annoyed at you,” Legion assured me. “As you say, it’s your job. No, her ire is directed at a friend of yours. One Maxwell Copperfield.”

My blood froze. “You’re here for Max,” I heard myself say, my voice thick with sudden worry.

“Oh yes. He’s had dealings with our company in the past, you see, and Thornhill isn’t happy that he decided to go against us.”

“What are you going to do to him.”

“Me? Nothing,” Legion chuckled. “And no, I don’t mean that a different me is going to kill him. I just want to talk to the man. He’s being given a second chance, you see.” She paused for a moment, but I said nothing. “It won’t even be a hardship for him – I understand that he’s already chosen his next target, and it’s exactly what we would have had him steal. All we want is to borrow it, a little.”

“So what are you doing here,” I stressed.

“Here? Nothing, anymore – I’ve passed that task on to a different me. I just need to know Max’s location,” Legion said. “After all, he gave away his hideout’s rough location to you a few days ago – he’s bound to have moved by now.”

“…I…” I rubbed my temples. Really. “What makes you think I’ll tell you?” I finally asked.

She shifted her hand into the badge again. “You still have two favors left, Abraham Armstrong,” she said. “…come now, surely you knew this was coming eventually?”

“So what, just tell you where you can find him, and, I assume, don’t stop you from doing so?”

“Precisely.”

I thought about it. It was certainly simpler than the last favor I had done for the Ambrosia Company. Less dangerous, too. And, I hoped, maybe less evil? …on the other hand, I had thought that I was rescuing someone, back then. Ambrosia had a way of making things more complicated – they told you only what you needed to know, and more than that, only what would be palatable to you. But, as I had learned from that favor, there was always more beneath the surface. What was Max planning on going after, and what would be the result of Ambrosia borrowing it?

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” I said after a few minutes as she patiently waited. “But you have to tell me what you intend on borrowing from Max.”

She shrugged. “There’s no harm in it, I suppose. He’s after an instructional book written by Merlin. Mr. Mercer would also very much like to see that book, which I don’t think will come as a surprise to you. So…”

“…fine. He’ll still be in his building on the docks,” I told her. “The man’s too lazy to move.”

“…he has magical powers that can literally pack up everything he owns in the snap.”

“And he won’t have used them,” I assured her. “He gets hyperfocused on things and forgets about everything else, unless something drags him out of his tunnel vision – and he doesn’t have anyone to do that for him right now.”

Legion facepalmed. “That’s what I get for assuming the best of people.” She turned to go.

“Wait,” I called before I could stop myself. “Why did you waste one of my favors on something so simple?”

She gave me a smile over her shoulder. “One good turn deserves another. You helped save my life, Canaveral – the least I can do is help you get out from under Ambrosia’s thumb.” Then she was gone in a flurry of black wings, rising up and away as a flock of crows.

I stared. When – how – what?

1.2. Scenes 1-2

Scene 1 – October 18th
Interior Townhouse, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

I didn’t get a chance to visit Dad for a day or two, too busy with schoolwork – my night out as a hero had left me exhausted, and my tiredness had made me slower than usual as I plodded through schoolwork – but before long he had recovered from his most recent relapse and was on the way home. I was making him a nice dinner to welcome him home, but hadn’t had time to shop for anything special. That meant it was Italian food – New Venice was heavily populated by Italian immigrants, and ingredients for their favorite dishes were always in ready supply.

I had timed it well – he stepped in through the door just as I was straining the spaghetti. “’Home agin, an’ home to stay— / Yes, it’s nice to be away. / Plenty things to do an’ see, / But the old place seems to me / Jest about the proper thing,’” he declared. “Are those meatballs I smell, Quinn?”

“They sure are!” I called back. “Come get something to drink, dinner’s just about ready!”

“Excellent!” My father stepped into the room, beaming at me, and took a glass from the cupboard. “Just water tonight, I think.” As I filled his glass, he said, “Paul Lawrence Dunbar, by the way. One of the first influential black poets in America.”

I went to hug him. “Welcome home, dad.”

He hugged me back, then released me and took a plate. “So how did the power testing go? Defeat any supervillains?”

“Ran into a one and was rescued by Aegis, who offered to give me his power,” I joked.

“Now that doesn’t seem very likely. Are you sure you’re not just offering him the credit for what you did, to stay out of the gang’s eyes?”

“You caught me – it was a giant dragon that I defeated by throwing a spider into his mouth.”

“Not surprised. Dragons notoriously hate spiders. Ancient enemies.”

“I thought spiders hated octopi? 8-legged rivals, you know.”

“Well, sort of. Really the octopusses just wish they were spiders.”

“Well, who wouldn’t want to be a spider?”

We laughed as we served each other – I spooned spaghetti onto two plates while Dad scooped out the meatballs. “But seriously, kiddo, what happened?”

“Well,” I said, taking a bite, “it did actually go pretty well. I went to a junkyard about ten minutes away and played around with my powers – pretty much what we thought they were, ESP and telekinesis. The telekinesis has a weird backlash effect where the same force gets applied to me, but that actually turned out to be pretty useful for moving around. I can walk on walls if I do it right, and jump pretty crazy distances by pushing against the ground.”

“How much force can you exert?” Dad asked. “Is it possible for you to hurt yourself with the backlash? You should be careful.”

“It is,” I said, wincing. “I’ve been super sore for the last two days. It wasn’t as bad the first day, but I tried a moon hop out of costume yesterday and, well, turns out that the PA4 reduces the backlash some. Or maybe makes me physically tougher, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not something that applies when I’m not wearing it.” I poked at my food for a moment. “Similar thing with the ESP, actually, just a little more low-key. When I can feel too much with it – while I’m outside, really – it starts to build up a headache over time. Again, the suit seems to help reduce that.”

“Maybe you’ll get better at that over time,” Dad offered. “The TK backlash sounds like it’s inherent to the force, but the headache might just be your brain having trouble dealing with so much extra information.”

“I hope so.” I took another bite, then continued. “And then on the way home…” I told Dad about how the night had become the best of my life – how I had met my personal hero, Canaveral, and he had taken me under his wing!

“…and you know, he seemed pretty exasperated with Maxwell, but they also seemed to be pretty… I dunno, intimate with each other? I was getting some kind of relationship vibe there. If they were exes they seemed pretty friendly. Oh, and then we worked out that I can visit the MLED Compound on Sunday, and he’ll introduce me to the other heroes!” I finished, excitedly.

Dad was silent for a moment. “Can we go back to the part where you had a gun pointed at your head, and you completely glossed over it?”

“Oh yeah. That.”

“Yes, that, Quinn!” he snapped. “I told you to be careful, didn’t I? I told you to steer clear of the gangs! And you ran right into danger!”

“I was with Canaveral!” I defended myself. “He wouldn’t let me get hurt! And I have superpowers now, anyway!”

“Oy gavalt, You didn’t have superpowers when that woman was threatening you!” Dad ran his fingers through his hair, a habit we shared when we were angry or stressed. “Why isn’t this phasing you, kid?”

“Because…” I thought back, trying to decipher my feelings. “Well,” I began, “it certainly frightened me at the time. It was only aimed at me for probably 30 seconds at most, but it felt like weeks. But afterward, it seems… I dunno, less important?

“I guess I knew that Canaveral wouldn’t let me be hurt,” I continued. “I mean, he mentioned afterward that if Maxwell hadn’t stepped in he would have let them go, and the police would have grabbed them since the area was surrounded. But even in the moment, his first instinct when I was seriously threatened was to step towards me. I think he probably would have even if the equality had taken away his powers too. He’s a real hero, you know?” I smiled to myself a little. “If I can be half the man he is, I’ll have reason to be proud.”

Dad spent a few minutes digesting this, and I took our finished plates into the kitchen. When I came back, he finally responded. “What would you have done if Canaveral wasn’t there? You won’t always have a partner as a superhero.”

“For one thing, I wouldn’t have gone into that situation without training, if he wasn’t there,” I said. “And anyway, I don’t even know if I want to be a hero yet. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to decide on Sunday.”

He sighed. “I know you’ve always wanted to change the world, Quinn, to make a positive difference. You’re really telling me that you don’t want to be a hero?”

“…yeah, well… childhood dreams aren’t always realistic,” I said, quietly. “I’m just one person, and I know how rare it is for individual people to affect much. If I can contribute a little… that’s why I want to be a metahuman doctor, you know? If I can save the real heroes, the ones who actually can change things…”

“You can change things too, Quinn,” Dad insisted.

“Sure,” I said, not really believing him. “Seems fake, but okay.”

Dad shook his head, seeming a little sad. “I can’t believe that thing holding you back isn’t the gun, it’s that you don’t think you can be a hero.” He looked at me again. “You should take Canaveral up on his invitation,” he said. “Just be careful. And please, whatever they may say, don’t go on patrol or anything without getting training.”

“I won’t, I promise,” I assured him. “And again, I really don’t think I’m going to register as a hero anyway. Being a doctor is already aiming high enough.”

Scene 2 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

The MLED Compound was a huge building, stretching out over a full block. Rumors said that it held everything from teleporters to other compounds in other cities, to underground shooting ranges, to a full-sized baseball diamond.

I didn’t really believe those rumors – the size of the building was, in my opinion, simply necessitated by the fact that it served such a vast organization. After all, it was not only the headquarters of the New Champions and their Journeymen, it was the only building used by the MLED in New Venice. And with the MLED being nearly the size of the police force, that meant almost 400 agents operating out of it, not to mention secretaries, janitors, management, and so on… and, of course, it almost certainly held things like cafeterias, medical wings, and more. But a baseball diamond?

All that was to say that while it was an impressively sprawling building, I didn’t really pause to marvel at its size.

I entered and met the receptionist, giving him a codeword that Canaveral had given me, and he nodded and directed me to where I would be meeting superheroes! I had entered in the wrong wing of the building, as it turned out, so I spent a few minutes walking, following an orange line that eventually led me to an elevator. I stepped inside it and gave my passphrase again to a microphone in the wall, and it began moving.

A moment after it started up, a panel on the side of the wall popped open, revealing a tray of masks. They were in a few different styles, but all in plain white, as well as a nametag that said ‘VISITOR: NEWTON’. Clever – allowing people to maintain a secret identity, or at least the pretense of one, even without a costume. I selected a domino mask, which self-adhered easily after I pressed a tiny button on its edge, and I found that it came off just as easily when I pressed the button again. I stuck the nametag to my shirt just in time, as the doors slid open just afterwards.

“Welcome!” said a tall, muscular black man wearing a mask that was the same blank white as the one I had taken from the elevator. “It’s good to see you again, Newton.”

After a moment, I recognized his voice as that of Canaveral. “It’s good to see you too,” I said, shaking his hand. “I guess we’re not meeting up in costume? I did wear mine underneath these clothes, but there were masks in the elevator, so…”

“Everyone’s suited up as much as they care to be already,” he told me. “We can take a moment for you to change if you’d like?” I shrugged. “Follow me, then – we’re all in the main common room.”

He pointed me down a short hallway, and briefly explained how their wing of the compound was laid out. One hallway was where the New Champions were located – a common area with couches, a tv, a small kitchen, and so on, with rooms branching out from it. This was mirrored on the other side of the elevator, with a similar setup for the Journeymen – he noted that their side of the wing had been set up for minors and so lacked adult entertainments – like alcohol, he quickly clarified when I began to blush. Adults weren’t allowed in the Journeymen’s area, while the reverse was true of the Champions’ – technically, he noted, they were divided by age rather than team, but they didn’t currently have any adults on the Journeymen so it was a moot point.

“Although that might be changing soon?” he asked me hopefully, and I shrugged, still undecided.

Meanwhile, the central hallway that we were currently meandering down led to shared spaces. A larger common room for the teams to use together, training areas like the gym and the pool, the console room, and the exit that they left through for patrols.

“Are you over or under 21?” he asked me.

“Over,” I answered. “I turned 21 about three months ago.”

“You’d graduate from the Journeymen pretty quickly, then. People think the team is just for minors, but it’s actually more of a training thing – six months minimum on the junior team for anyone registering as a hero,” he explained, “then they’re moved to a main team somewhere in the country. Or not, if they’re still under 21.”

“Makes sense,” I agreed, “but how long is this corridor, anyway?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Not this long, typically. Holly, is this your doing?”